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Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Are You Taking The Leash Off And Letting Your Child Be Free To Play?

Play is a child’s job. Have you ever noticed how focused a child can become during their play that they ignore instructions and voices of the adults? They are so finely tuned into their play because it is nature’s way of helping the child develop and mature in a manner that is appealing to a child. They don’t want to be taught how to be a doctor at age 5 by a parent sitting them down and explaining the duties and role of the family physician. The child would rather pretend to be a doctor and have a doll or stuffed animal as their patient, as they go about examining their pretend patient.

Play is a way for them to practice real life scenarios in a safe way. It also allows for the creative flow of thoughts and ideas. These are essential to the healthy development of the child. Parents who have a hard time letting go of their kids to allow unstructured play time need to recognize that these activities are actually assisting in their emotional and cognitive development.

Read my previous article about The Endless Battle Between School Works and Play for Children if you haven’t realized how kids’ creativity are being murdered these days.

Play can bring greater benefits than any scheduled activities

Play is their work. It is their time to process life through imaginative actions, and to build them into emotionally stronger people. The benefits of creative play should not be discounted or minimized.

Creative play has a multitude of benefits for children including:

  • Greater sense of self worth
  • Problem solving skills
  • Personal growth and learning
  • Increase in creative thought processes (creativity builds upon creativity)
  • Increase in emotional stability (children use play to work through complex issues)
  • Leadership abilities
  • Cognitive skills
  • Communication skills (as they play with other children and express themselves)

Don’t rob your kids of the benefits of creative play by having them busy all the time in scheduled activities. Allow time for them to play and be a child.

A subtle action can murder an innocent creative play

There are things that a parent or caregiver can inadvertently do that will kill a child’s abilities to flourish creatively in that moment. Below are just some of the things that can harm or inhibit creative play.

Hovering

When adults hoover over their children during play time, the children are aware of their presence. It inhibits their ability to play, as many children will limit their actions based on what they believe the adult will like or dislike in their actions. The child becomes attuned to accommodating the hovering by playing according to positive reactions from their caregiver.

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This can also be conversely true as well. Meaning that the child may play in a way that seeks out negative attention from the hovering caregiver. Either way, the hovering is not beneficial in the long run, as it is stifling the child’s ability to be creative without the direct scrutiny of an adult.

Pressure to perform

Children need to be able to play without feeling that they are performing. They don’t need to create something meaningful like a rehearsed puppet show or a quality piece of artwork to be creative.

Often, creativity is built over time. They need time, space, and freedom from pressure to be creative. Sometimes, nothing is created and that is fine too. The purpose is to allow them to be creative on their own and in their own element, so pressure must not be placed on them. Pressure does not help creativity flow for children. Instead it creates stress and negative emotions that inhibit creativity.

Control

Allow the child to do their own thing. If you are constantly saying “why don’t you do things this way” or “how about you do this…”, then you are trying to control the creative play.

Most children will eventually decide what and how they want to go about doing something. They don’t need interference. Even if it is the wrong way. As long as it is not harmful to them, then it is a creative experience that should teach them to do things differently next time. They will learn on their own using their own abilities than the controlling prodding from an adult.

Competition

There is plenty of competition for kids in this world and for the life ahead of them. Parents and adults do not need to make play time competitive, because for many kids this puts them off. They just want to participate with other children and enjoy the fun. They don’t want to be the loser in a competition.

If kids create their own competition in play, then that’s fine. It is not helpful for adults to intervene and force competitive situations in the play. It becomes real work when competition is put into the mix. It can suppress a child’s ability to be creative, as they are more focused on the competition at hand that allowing their natural creativity to abound.

Let the kids lead the play

Parents should allow for the child to lead the play, as this is allowing them to be the source of the creativity. Parents and adults can supply the materials needed and then let the child or children play using their own thoughts on how to proceed with the playtime. If parents get too involved or provide too much direction they inhibit the child’s creativity and self expression. Allowing the child space and time to play without specific instructions is exactly what children need to flourish in their creative element (provided that they are safe first and foremost).

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Below are some ways that you can encourage your child in free play. Allowing your child to do these things will stimulate their creative thought processes. It will also help their development emotionally and mentally.

1. Art

Provide your child with crayons, paints, paper, markers, empty boxes, and more and you will see them express their creativity. You don’t need to tell them what to draw or how to create art. They have their own ideas. If you want to be involved in the art then encourage their play by providing them with positive verbal cues as they play.

For example, as your daughter paints a piece of artwork and suddenly takes a bright red paint and splatters it all over their artwork, don’t tell her she is ruining her artwork. Instead comment on their creative choices. Praise their ability to know what they want and that they go and do it with confidence.

It is also ok to simply provide them with the supplies to create art and allow them the opportunity to create on their own. If you are concerned about mess, then cover the table and floor below the child with newspaper, paper towels, or other disposable materials and have them put on one of your old t-shirts. Be less concerned with the mess and more concerned with the child being able to freely create the art.

2. Outdoor exploration

Get outside and explore with your child. Something as simple as a bug box or binoculars can bring lots of creative ideas to the child. Allow the child to take the lead on what they want to discover that moment in nature or how they want to play. The great outdoors is a wonderful natural setting for play and imaginative activities to happen.

    3. Pretending adulthood

    One way that children play that helps them imagine how it will be to a grown up is through pretend play. When your children play adult scenarios such as, school (one child is the teacher and the others are students in a make believe classroom), doctor (they are doctors and perform surgeries and examinations on dolls or stuffed animals), or house (the kids pretend to be a family and they create home life situations to play out), they are imagining what it would be like to do these things in real life. They are playing through their reality of what can or may happen as adults in these scenarios. It is a way for them to safely express themselves and practice what it will be like to someday be an adult.

    4. Building

    Blocks, Legos, gear building sets, and other toys that allow children to build something are great for initiating creative and imaginative play. They must built to create something, therefore using their own skills of creativity and ingenuity. They are the architect, the construction crew, and the designer all in one. They plan, execute, and then enjoy the fruits of their labor when the project is complete.

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    There is great joy and self-worth attained when children build things. It isn’t just imaginative play, it is learning to start a project and complete it for the sake of their own satisfaction. Their self-motivation can be honed in on during building play time.

    Once again, parents can provide the materials and then let the child determine the course of the building, along with the execution. It is ok to help along the way if they ask for help, but allow them to direct you on what you should be doing in their project. That way they have the sense of being in control of their project and they are taking a leadership role in accomplishing the task at hand. It is empowering for the child and helps them to become stronger emotionally and mentally.

    5. Toys that facilitate creativity

    Play Doh, tinker toys, and the like facilitate creative play in children because they are creating somethings using these toys. These toys can be much like art and building combined. They allow the child to create freely from scratch. They can determine what to make and how to go about completion of what they want to make. They are utilizing great creative and innovative skills when allowed the space and freedom to plan and complete a project on their own.

    For example, a child can decide that they want to make a miniature town out of Play Doh. They get to decide how to create the buildings, where to place them, how big to make them, etc. They then get to execute and this involves trial and error. They learn to problem solve things such as the trees not standing up on their own, so they must create conifer trees only to support the weight of the Play Doh. They will revel in their success of completing their little town and feel proud of their accomplishment.

    It is more than just play, it is building life skills and developing problem solving skills that carry into adulthood.

      6. Physical activity

      Kids need physical activity. This is why they rarely sit still. They need to be moving physically all throughout the day, as this is the way children are made. They are physical creatures with an abundance of energy that is meant to be used for their benefit in the maturation process. When they play physically, especially with other children, they are often engaging in creative play.

      For example, they may chase one another and create imaginative games about good guys needing to capture the bad guys. They will create playtime activities on their own that involve physical play when they are allowed that freedom and enough physical space to move around.

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      Outdoors is the best place to allow them to be physically creative. It is also a great time for leadership skills to be developed. The child who is simply bossy will not attract other kids at play time. However, the child who has good leadership skills can attract other kids to play in their activity and can lead the way in the play.

      Creative physical play time is also beneficial to their physical well being since they are getting exercise while they are playing.

      Allow kids to be kids

      The Pediatrics Journal cites a variety of reasons that contribute to the reduction of play in society today,[1]

      …variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play.

      Parents need to be cognizant of their family lifestyle and schedule to ensure that their children are allowed to have time to be children. This means allowing them time to play freely which provides the opportunity for their creativity to blossom.

      Keeping children too busy and too structured is proving detrimental to their development in the long run. Their creativity, which is an important skill unlocks the gate for many valuable skills and traits children will need in adulthood, will be hindered.

      Featured photo credit: Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Dr. Magdalena Battles

      A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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      Published on January 24, 2020

      5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

      5 Ways to Improve Your Parenting Skills (Psychology-Backed)

      There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Parenting is hard. It takes a great deal of effort to be even a decent parent. My husband and I are raising our three children ages 6, 6, and 7.

      Yes, I have my hands full. Twin six-year-old boys and a seven-year-old girl keep me on my parenting toes, so to speak. It is not easy, but I do my best to be a good parent. Having a PhD in psychology is helpful, but I still devour plenty of parenting books and research articles to continually try to do better. I am still a work in progress just like all parents.

        It would be great if we knew exactly what to do and how to do it with our kids. But not all kids are the same and they are not born with a manual that provides us with instructions on how to raise them right. However, we do have research on parenting and psychology that can help us out and point us in the right direction.

        Below I have five tips on how to improve your parenting skills starting today! These tips are backed by research. The first step toward being a great parent is knowing how. It is difficult to be a good parent without knowing first and foremost the how and why.

        1. Practice Loving without Conditions

        Loving unconditionally seems like a given that we all assume we are doing as a parent. However, we may have behaviors or words spoken that undermine our ability for our children to feel unconditionally loved.

        For example, asking our child if he wants another mom when he is acting out is not practicing unconditional love. The message that is being sent to the child is that if they act out or misbehave, they are at risk of losing you as a mother, since you ask “do you want another mom” or “do you want to live somewhere else?”

        If you have ever made these statements, it doesn’t mean you are a terrible parent. However, if we want our child to feel loved unconditionally, then we need to stop saying things that make the child feel like the relationship could ever be severed because of their behavior.

        Another way to look at these threats is comparing them to threatening divorce. If you have ever been married, or lived in a home with married parents, then you know that when one person threatens divorce, it cuts to the core.

        Threatening divorce damages the relationship, because trust is lost. The other person begins to feel that that their relationship may not be forever, and that the relationship can be ended because their spouse is threatening divorce. Even if the person threatening doesn’t really mean what they are saying and they truly love their spouse, the words are damaging none the less.

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        The same principles go for parent and child relationships. If a child has been threatened with loss of their current home life, the parent leaving them, or being placed in foster care, then that child does not feel loved unconditionally. They will believe that love from their parent is contingent on their behavior. It is conditional love which means that they are only loved under certain conditions.

        My son Charlie has recently gotten into the habit of saying “I love you Mom” every time that he gets in trouble. He kicked the dog the other day. Not hard, but nevertheless he kicked our family dog. I was fuming. I yelled at him and he was sent to his room for a long time out (I know the yelling was not a good thing to do). I couldn’t even think of a consequence in the heat of the moment so I said “go to your room, I don’t want to see you right now, I will think about your consequence later.”

        He cried, and as he was running up the stairs and he was saying “I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy, I love you Mommy.” Why was he saying that? Because in his six-year-old mind, he is worried that I will stop loving him if he has bad behavior.

        Kids don’t know that we love them unconditionally. They are learning though and we must teach them that we do. My response in this situation and always is to say “I love you too.” I then usually follow it up with “I don’t like your behavior right now, but I will always love you.”

        Kids need to be told that they are loved regardless of their behavior. It needs to be ingrained that they are loved even if they act out, break the rules, or misbehave.

        An article by Elite Daily examined several research studies on unconditional love.[1] The findings from these studies showed that children become more well-adjusted, emotionally healthy, and physically healthy adults when they experience unconditional love in childhood. When children are exposed to conditional love in their parent-child relationship, the research showed that, children have higher levels of anxiety which in turn negatively affects their long-range health, such as heart health.

        Loving unconditionally means loving without conditions. Unconditional love is loving someone just the way that they are, flaws and all. Tell your children that you love them, even when they break the rules, misbehave, or they tell you that they hate you (most kids say this to their parents at some point in time).

        You must always respond with “I love you regardless of your behavior.” It doesn’t mean that you are accepting or allowing the bad behavior. There should always be reasonable consequences to match the behavior. However, they shouldn’t ever be made to feel that the love of their parent can be revoked because of bad behaviors.

        2. Develop a Bond That Will Last a Lifetime by Creating Memories

        You need to spend time with your kids in order to create a bond. Quality time matters, but so does quantity time.

        Kids want to be with their parents. Spend time together as a family. For example, make it a point to have dinner at the kitchen or dining room table at least a few nights a week. Make a rule that no technology is allowed at the table during that time, so that you can talk and spend time together.

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        Before you know it, that child will be grown and out of your home. Take the time to spend meal times together, talking and truly getting to know your child before they leave your home as an adult.

        Barking Up the Wrong Tree looked at research on how to create happy memories that last a lifetime. Some of the things discovered in the research included:[2]

        • Memories are made when our senses and emotions are elevated.
        • If we are pulling out the camera phone, it is likely an elevated experience that you want to remember.
        • Celebrating milestones and praiseworthy moments (graduations, winning seasons, etc.) helps to create positive lasting memories.
        • Struggling together creates a bond. If you have worked through conflict in your relationship and made it better in the process then you have created a bond. Fraternities haze, soldier fight together, and families overcome struggles together. These all make for lasting bonds. When you struggle together as a family, celebrate the success at the end of your victory, once you have overcome the challenge together.

        Take the time to make memories with your children. They are only little once. Go on those vacations, hike to the top of a mountain together, sail across an ocean, go camping, or teach them to ice-skate.

        Do anything and everything that will help create memories, bonds, and experiences that will last a lifetime in their memory. Those memories are what will carry them into old age with happiness in their heart.

        3. Stop the Yelling

        Yelling at our kids is not good parenting. Yet it is still happening on regular basis in most homes. I admit, I am still continually working on this one. I think this quote summarizes the situation.

          However, I know I need to continually work to not yell or raise my voice, as I would prefer a household with zero voices ever raised.

          Yelling causes our children to become anxious. It also affects them emotionally and mentally in a negative manner. If you have ever been yelled at by a boss or superior, you probably remember it and it is not a fond memory. It made you feel bad. It is hard enough to be reprimanded in a calm voice.

          When someone, whether adult or child, is yelled at while being reprimanded it causes anxiety, stress, and negative emotions to abound. When the yelling involves name calling or insults it becomes emotional abuse.

          Heathline Parenthood examined research on the topic of yelling and found that parents who yell at their kids end up with children who are more aggressive verbally and physically.[3] Children learn from their parents’ example. If yelling is a regular occurrence in your household, then your child is learning that when dealing with behavior or situations that they don’t like, it is appropriate to yell. None of us want to teach that to our children, so we must take action to stop the yelling.

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          Healthline provides some tips on how to stop yelling:

          • Know what triggers the yelling. What are the behaviors occurring or situations where you find yourself yelling at your children?
          • When you feel that you are going to yell, give yourself a time out or count to ten.
          • Practice responding in a calm, even tone. Practice makes the action a habit.
          • If you do yell, then admit the mistake and apologize to your child. They will then learn that it is not an acceptable behavior and that they too should apologize if they make a mistake and end up yelling. (Yes, I apologized to Charlie for yelling and he had to apologize to our dog Max.)

          My article about yelling less at your kids less is also helpful: The Only Effective Way to Talk With Children When They Are Acting Out. This article outlines the steps to use the “one-ask” parenting approach. This approach is used to help parents follow up with consequences more quickly so that situations don’t escalate to worse behavior by the children and yelling from the parents. Some tips from this article on talking to your children without yelling include the following.

          • Get on their level, talking face to face in a calm voice.
          • Don’t make repeated threats about a consequence that is coming to them and wait for the situation to become more heated.
          • Follow through with the consequence (i.e. loss of playtime or time-out) immediately after they violate your warning. Don’t wait for them to repeat the bad behavior several more times. One warning is all that is needed. Then, if they break the rule or don’t obey, the consequence should be immediately implemented.

          If you find that your yelling is so entrenched in your daily behaviors that you have a hard time kicking the habit and you need more support, then buy, or find at your local library, the book Triggers by Amber Lia and Wendy Speake. Their tips were even featured on the Focus on the Family national radio program and were rated as a number one show for 2019. Their gentle parenting methods simply work.

          A quote from the book:

          “Peacemaking moms produce peacemaking kids.”

          Wendy and Amber also have a Facebook group that is free to join. It is Gentle Parenting with Amber and Wendy. In this group, you will find thousands of other parents looking for support to yell less in their homes. Check out the group if you want more connected support to stop yelling at your kids. I am a member of this group too. Nobody is perfect, but we can do better as parents by yelling less starting today.

          4. Provide Experiences Over Toys

          Toys are fun. But our kids don’t need an excess of overcomplicated, electronic, and expensive toys in order to be happy or develop in a healthy manner. Focusing on experiences over toys is a way to improve as a parent now.

          The next holiday or birthday that comes up, think about gifting your child an experience, for example, a year membership to the children’s museum or zoo. Another experience is a trip to someplace interesting such as a National Park. These experiences help to create memories. They also help to make your child a more well rounded individual as they are out in the world experiencing activities rather than sitting in their room playing the newest video game.

          Motherly posted a recent article that delved into the science that experiences are better for our kids than toys. Here is a quote from that article that is worth noting.[4]

          And if we need one more reason to cool it on the toy giving, researchers have discovered that gratitude and generosity increase when experiences are given instead of objects. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, conducted many studies over many decades and found that happiness is derived from experiences, not things. Bottom line: The happiness derived from a childhood experience is far more significant than the fleeting excitement of toys under the Christmas tree. Giving experiences that involve spending time together instead of gifting toys brings greater and longer-lasting joy. Don’t stress about the number of toys, mama. Focus on making memories.

          Creating family experiences and making memories go hand-in-hand. Our money and resources get more bang for their buck when they are used on experiences for the family instead of things. The research from the Motherly article shows that families are happier overall when they have more experiences together and less toys.

          5. Let Them Play and Be a Child

          Play and childhood development go hand-in-hand. However, the amount of playtime our children are getting has been diminishing in recent decades.

          We are so intent on our children learning, that we take away from their playtime. Play is learning. We need to get our children back to basic playtime so they can develop and learn in a natural way.

          Increase their playtime and limit the electronics. Research by Very Well Family found that too much technology is damaging to our children.[5] When children get too much time on electronic devices, their research found that children have sleep issues, obesity, behavior problems, academic problems, and emotional issues. Limit your children’s time on technology.

          According to We Can, we need to aim for less than two of screen time per day for our school aged children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends far less time for children under the age of five. We Can offers a free screen time chart so you can track your child’s time on digital devices.

          The goal is to get children playing and off the technology. Playing will help them developmentally. In my book Let Them Play, I explain the importance of play and provide 100 child developmental play activities. Some great play activities that promote development and learning that are listed in the book including Play Doh, magnet blocks, Legos, puppet shows, and hopscotch.

          Parents can teach their children different play activities while they actively play with their children. Fifteen or twenty minutes of playtime together can help to create bonding time between parent and child. Then the parent can allow their children to continue playing the activity on their own. This play time is crucial to the child’s healthy social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

          They are only little once. Let them be a child when they are little. Two-year-old children aren’t meant to sit at desks for hours completing school work. They were made to play, explore, and be active physically. This is how they learn and develop best.

          Final Thoughts

          These are not the only ways to improve as a parent. However, these are five ways that you can begin improving as a parent starting today.

          Nobody is a perfect parent, which means we all have room for improvement. Look at your own parenting methods objectively and decide where you can improve. Then do something about it.

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          Featured photo credit: Jonathan Daniels via unsplash.com

          Reference

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